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Jake Nebel
University of Southern California
  1. The Good, the Bad, and the Transitivity of Better Than.Jacob M. Nebel - 2018 - Noûs 52 (4):874-899.
    The Rachels–Temkin spectrum arguments against the transitivity of better than involve good or bad experiences, lives, or outcomes that vary along multiple dimensions—e.g., duration and intensity of pleasure or pain. This paper presents variations on these arguments involving combinations of good and bad experiences, which have even more radical implications than the violation of transitivity. These variations force opponents of transitivity to conclude that something good is worse than something that isn’t good, on pain of rejecting the good altogether. That (...)
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  2. Normative Reasons as Reasons Why We Ought.Jacob M. Nebel - 2019 - Mind 128 (510):459-484.
    I defend the view that a reason for someone to do something is just a reason why she ought to do it. This simple view has been thought incompatible with the existence of reasons to do things that we may refrain from doing or even ought not to do. For it is widely assumed that there are reasons why we ought to do something only if we ought to do it. I present several counterexamples to this principle and reject some (...)
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  3. Aggregation Without Interpersonal Comparisons of Well‐Being.Jacob M. Nebel - forthcoming - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.
    This paper is about the role of interpersonal comparisons in Harsanyi's aggregation theorem. Harsanyi interpreted his theorem to show that a broadly utilitarian theory of distribution must be true even if there are no interpersonal comparisons of well-being. How is this possible? The orthodox view is that it is not. Some argue that the interpersonal comparability of well-being is hidden in Harsanyi's premises. Others argue that it is a surprising conclusion of Harsanyi's theorem, which is not presupposed by any one (...)
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  4. An Intrapersonal Addition Paradox.Jacob M. Nebel - 2019 - Ethics 129 (2):309-343.
    I present a new argument for the repugnant conclusion. The core of the argument is a risky, intrapersonal analogue of the mere addition paradox. The argument is important for three reasons. First, some solutions to Parfit’s original puzzle do not obviously generalize to the intrapersonal puzzle in a plausible way. Second, it raises independently important questions about how to make decisions under uncertainty for the sake of people whose existence might depend on what we do. And, third, it suggests various (...)
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  5. Status Quo Bias, Rationality, and Conservatism About Value.Jacob M. Nebel - 2015 - Ethics 125 (2):449-476.
    Many economists and philosophers assume that status quo bias is necessarily irrational. I argue that, in some cases, status quo bias is fully rational. I discuss the rationality of status quo bias on both subjective and objective theories of the rationality of preferences. I argue that subjective theories cannot plausibly condemn this bias as irrational. I then discuss one kind of objective theory, which holds that a conservative bias toward existing things of value is rational. This account can fruitfully explain (...)
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  6. Totalism Without Repugnance.Jacob M. Nebel - 2022 - In Jeff McMahan, Tim Campbell, James Goodrich & Ketan Ramakrishnan (eds.), Ethics and Existence: The Legacy of Derek Parfit. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 200-231.
    Totalism is the view that one distribution of well-being is better than another just in case the one contains a greater sum of well-being than the other. Many philosophers, following Parfit, reject totalism on the grounds that it entails the repugnant conclusion: that, for any number of excellent lives, there is some number of lives that are barely worth living whose existence would be better. This paper develops a theory of welfare aggregation—the lexical-threshold view—that allows totalism to avoid the repugnant (...)
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  7. Consequences of Comparability.Cian Dorr, Jacob M. Nebel & Jake Zuehl - 2021 - Philosophical Perspectives 35 (1):70-98.
    We defend three controversial claims about preference, credence, and choice. First, all agents (not just rational ones) have complete preferences. Second, all agents (again, not just rational ones) have real-valued credences in every proposition in which they are confident to any degree. Third, there is almost always some unique thing we ought to do, want, or believe.
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  8. Hopes, Fears, and Other Grammatical Scarecrows.Jacob M. Nebel - 2019 - Philosophical Review 128 (1):63-105.
    The standard view of "believes" and other propositional attitude verbs is that such verbs express relations between agents and propositions. A sentence of the form “S believes that p” is true just in case S stands in the belief-relation to the proposition that p; this proposition is the referent of the complement clause "that p." On this view, we would expect the clausal complements of propositional attitude verbs to be freely intersubstitutable with their corresponding proposition descriptions—e.g., "the proposition that p"—as (...)
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  9. Utils and Shmutils.Jacob M. Nebel - 2021 - Ethics 131 (3):571-599.
    Matthew Adler's Measuring Social Welfare is an introduction to the social welfare function (SWF) methodology. This essay questions some ideas at the core of the SWF methodology having to do with the relation between the SWF and the measure of well-being. The facts about individual well-being do not single out a particular scale on which well-being must be measured. As with physical quantities, there are multiple scales that can be used to represent the same information about well-being; no one scale (...)
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  10. The Case for Comparability.Cian Dorr, Jacob M. Nebel & Jake Zuehl - forthcoming - Noûs.
    We argue that all gradable expressions in natural language obey a principle that we call Comparability: if x and y are both F to some degree, then either x is at least as F as y or y is at least as F as x. This principle has been widely rejected among philosophers, especially by ethicists, and its falsity has been claimed to have important normative implications. We argue that Comparability is needed to explain the goodness of several patterns of (...)
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  11. Priority, Not Equality, for Possible People.Jacob M. Nebel - 2017 - Ethics 127 (4):896-911.
    How should we choose between uncertain prospects in which different possible people might exist at different levels of wellbeing? Alex Voorhoeve and Marc Fleurbaey offer an egalitarian answer to this question. I give some reasons to reject their answer and then sketch an alternative, which I call person-affecting prioritarianism.
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  12. Rank-Weighted Utilitarianism and the Veil of Ignorance.Jacob M. Nebel - 2020 - Ethics 131 (1):87-106.
    Lara Buchak argues for a version of rank-weighted utilitarianism that assigns greater weight to the interests of the worse off. She argues that our distributive principles should be derived from the preferences of rational individuals behind a veil of ignorance, who ought to be risk averse. I argue that Buchak’s appeal to the veil of ignorance leads to a particular way of extending rank-weighted utilitarianism to the evaluation of uncertain prospects. This method recommends choices that violate the unanimous preferences of (...)
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  13. Ethics Without Numbers.Jacob M. Nebel - manuscript
    The most rigorous framework for theorizing about the measurement and aggregation of value is the framework of social welfare functionals developed by Amartya Sen. In this framework, a social or overall betterness ordering is assigned to each possible profile of real-valued utility functions. Different possibilities for the measurability and interpersonal comparability of well-being are captured, in this framework, by invariance conditions, which require the same ordering to be assigned to profiles that are deemed informationally equivalent. But these invariance conditions are (...)
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  14. Calibration Dilemmas in the Ethics of Distribution.Jacob M. Nebel & H. Orri Stefánsson - forthcoming - Economics and Philosophy.
    This paper presents a new kind of problem in the ethics of distribution. The problem takes the form of several “calibration dilemmas,” in which intuitively reasonable aversion to small-stakes inequalities requires leading theories of distribution to recommend intuitively unreasonable aversion to large-stakes inequalities. We first lay out a series of such dilemmas for prioritarian theories. We then consider a widely endorsed family of egalitarian views and show that they are subject to even more forceful calibration dilemmas than prioritarian theories. Finally, (...)
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  15. A Fixed-Population Problem for the Person-Affecting Restriction.Jacob M. Nebel - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (9):2779-2787.
    According to the person-affecting restriction, one distribution of welfare can be better than another only if there is someone for whom it is better. Extant problems for the person-affecting restriction involve variable-population cases, such as the nonidentity problem, which are notoriously controversial and difficult to resolve. This paper develops a fixed-population problem for the person-affecting restriction. The problem reveals that, in the presence of incommensurable welfare levels, the person-affecting restriction is incompatible with minimal requirements of impartial beneficence even in fixed-population (...)
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  16. Asymmetries in the Value of Existence.Jacob M. Nebel - 2019 - Philosophical Perspectives 33 (1):126-145.
    According to asymmetric comparativism, it is worse for a person to exist with a miserable life than not to exist, but it is not better for a person to exist with a happy life than not to exist. My aim in this paper is to explain how asymmetric comparativism could possibly be true. My account of asymmetric comparativism begins with a different asymmetry, regarding the (dis)value of early death. I offer an account of this early death asymmetry, appealing to the (...)
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